Wild Woman Challenge

I did something a little ridiculous last weekend… which I’m sure comes as no surprise to any of you that have ever read my blog before. (Don’t worry, this adventure didn’t end with a sliced open head…missed that story? Read it here)

You may have heard of 4x4x48 challenge put out there by Dave Goggins, the former Navy Seal who makes it his life goal to find new levels of pain in endurance sports. The premise of the challenge is this; run 4 miles, every 4 hours for 48 hours. Sounds awful, right? Yep. So of course, I wanted to try it. I knew it would be easier then running 160 kms all at once at Sinister 7 or 160 kms in 24 hours in a repetitive loop every hour at Quarantine Backyard Ultra, but it certainly is not easy, by any means!

However, I’m not really interested in writing a lot about the run part of the weekend…the quick summary goes like this. Run, eat, sleep a bit, chaffing, sore muscles, irritated plantar fasciitis, mental fatigue blah blah blah. If you’ve ever read anything about endurance sport the story is the same. It’s hard, it hurts, you do it anyway, its awesome in the end, and then I write about it. But what I’m more interested in writing about today is Joy.

Yep. Joy.

Remember that feeling? Remember when we used to do fun things with fun people? Remember parties and concerts and travel and dining out with friends? What do you remember most about those things? Probably that you were really happy in those moments. That you could truly surrender to the good feelings because everyone around you was feeling good too and you got to just enjoy experiencing the same good thing. There is something incredibly powerful about collective experiences as a way to express joy. It’s vulnerable. And it takes a level of courage you simply cannot practice in isolation. We often think of going through difficult emotions as being hard, but experiencing joy is hard too, just in a different way. Our brains are hard wired towards the negative. It’s a protective mechanism we’ve evolved in order to keep us constantly on alert for danger; vigilant for survival. Allowing ourselves to feel truly, uninhibitedly joyful somehow feels like a denial of negativity or hardship, as though we don’t deserve to feel good things if life feels difficult.

It’s been a tough year for everyone, and we can all agree that joy has been really hard to come by. Restrictions mean we have lost the opportunities for collective experiences, and the messaging around interacting with others been ridiculously confusing. We can shop at Walmart or be around people for work, but social gatherings are not allowed. As though Covid is only spread when people smile and socialize, not when they interact for economic gain. I mean, I get it, I’m not arguing the rules…but you have to admit it feels more like orders from the ‘Fun Police’ then Health Authorities.

Anyway, back to the 4x4x48 Challenge. I knew I wanted to do it, but I wanted to make it as fun as possible. For me, that meant it needed to include people, it needed to be interesting, and it needed to be a bit absurd. Thankfully, I have plenty of people in my life ready and willing to join me in such nonsense, and soon enough we had a group of six brilliant and accomplished female ultra runners scheming how to make it an unforgettable weekend. We decided to make the challenge ours, changing the name from the Goggins 4x4x48 Challenge to Wild Women Challenge and we brainstormed all kinds of ways to up the ante. Some of us increased the distance, added elevation or speed goals to increase the difficulty of the running component of the challenge. But we also added other fun elements; like the Random Acts of Kindness run where I handed out coffee cards to people I passed on the trail (and got super embarrassed when I realized the cardboard card holder was soggy with sweat…Random Acts of Grossness…opps), or Support Local run that had a stop at a coffee shop for a cinnamon bun with my son and husband. It wasn’t realistic to do every run together as a group of six, as the drive time cut into precious sleep and recovery time, but we did manage to do a few runs as a group and they definitely were ridiculously fun.

The first night we all dressed up in our best colourful outfits and blasted dance music while we ran through downtown decked out in glow sticks and lights. I carried an 8-foot-long stick with a star on the top the whole way, pointing it like I was charging into battle. You can imagine how absurd a group of 30-40 year old mom’s looked running the streets and racing like lunatics across scatter crosswalks.  

The second night we ran at midnight in our onesies and pyjamas down the middle of residential streets as though it was the most normal thing in the world to do, laughing and shrieking the whole time like a bunch of lunatics. It was absolutely and completely serendipitous. Even though we were all exhausted from being on our second night of sleep deprivation and 80km into the challenge, I wouldn’t have traded those moments for anything.

It was very interesting to me to watch other people’s reactions as we passed them on our night runs. A few people looked up, engaged, smiled. Even fewer people sought connection by sharing a laugh or a comment. Many ignored us completely or watched with no reaction, as though acknowledging someone else’s happiness would steal from their own small supply. I worry that the difficulties of this last year have left us guarded, lost so deep in our own struggles that we have forgotten how to be vulnerable enough to share a moment of carefree happiness with a stranger. It is impossible to experience full growth in isolation from others. The mountains and valleys of the human experience demand to be shared with those around us, and just as important as it is to share your pain and sadness with others in order to heal, it is important to share the beautiful and delightful with others as well. This is what it means to be human. To look up, to smile, to acknowledge someone else’s joy and allow it to infiltrate your barriers to elevate your own mood, even just a little bit.

If all we are promised is this moment, right now. Why not make it a joyful one?

Four hours after the pyjama run, with very little sleep, I struggled through my brain fog and headed out the door for my 10th run of the challenge. For this one I had arranged to meet my friend Blake who lives in the next neighbourhood. As we started down the sidewalk, he asked how I was doing and I laughed and said “I’m pretty tired, but can’t really complain can I? I’m doing this to myself for no reason. I’m not really sure why”.

Without hesitating, he said “To feel alive”.

There it is. That’s it.

There have been many moments of sadness this year. Countless moments of boredom, restlessness and frustration. Of anger and indignation. There has been that gutting loneliness when the Zoom call ends and your phone is too quiet. The quiet resignation of not smiling at strangers at the grocery store because they can’t see it anyway. The helplessness of isolation. All of these experiences are part of what it means to be alive and are necessary for growth into our own fullness and I am not denying the significance of the things we are all going through these days. But it can be so tempting to let that sadness define us, to let anger or loneliness pull us under. When really, joy is just a pendulum swing away and all of it, every last drop of it, is there for us to experience.

“If you ever suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give into it…whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb” -Mary Oliver.

When I set out on the Wild Woman challenge, I held the plans loosely in open palms, much the same way I have held any plans I’ve had this last year, knowing nothing is certain except the moment we have right now. The only expectation I had was that I wanted a memorable weekend and I wanted to share it with others. I am happy to report that happened in abundance. My husband, new to running, did nearly 40 km with me over the weekend. My 13-year-old daughter Katie did 10 km with me, and my 9 year old son Levi did 8 km with me (earning him a giant cookie from a coffee shop for the Support Local theme!) In addition to the five women who also did the challenge, we were joined by several other run friends for various laps at all times of the day and night.

Over the course of the weekend, I ran 120km and completed my biggest non-race distance week ever, and while that is incredibly satisfying, its not really what I care about or what I will remember about the experience. I’ll remember the smiles, the ridiculous moments and times I fully surrendered into feeling uninhibited joy. And if any of you ever want to run down the middle of the street in your pjs, you know I’ll join ya.

I’m. All. IN.